AFLW Finals – The Doc’s Week One Preview

After a pretty good Round 10, in which the eight finally settled, the AFLW finals series is upon us.

At a quick glance, you automatically assume that Brisbane and Melbourne are the two that should make up the season seven Grand Final, but finals football is an incredibly different beast to that of a home and away season.

In my mind, we have the eight best teams from this season and each of the four match-ups this weekend offer up the potential to be juicy and quality football. This is why I’m doing something special this weekend (and hopefully the rest of finals) with a preview of the games.



Firstly, thank the heavens that this game is not at Casey Fields. I’ve been there, and to say it’s a pile of crap, would be very kind to the city of Casey – the weather is either windy, or it’s windy and pissing down and situated in the middle of nowhere, formally known as Cranbourne – you’re not going to get a high-value crowd into the gates there.

At Ikon Park, you’re going to get bums on seats, because this is the Grand Final rematch of last season. These two sides played off in round one on the Friday night in South Australia and whilst I often make mention that one game does not indicate a season, hindsight has been tremendous here and it has really given us a good sense of where these two teams are at.

The Crows in their premiership defence have been solid, but not as spectacular as Melbourne or Brisbane are. Last week against the Saints, they were very lacklustre and very fortunate that Danielle Ponter decided to turn up, otherwise we would’ve been talking about one of the biggest boilovers in the history of the competition.

Since suffering the ankle injury against Brisbane, the Crows have missed the presence of Chelsea Randall in this team. Yes, Ebony Marinoff has been getting her numbers up and Anne Hatchard has been willing the side on, but neither side can command a game in multiple positions as consistently as Randall can. We’ve seen Hatchard sound off up forward a couple of times this season, but her kicking for goal has been left wanting.

She’s touch and go to return this weekend (Edit: She’s named in the team), but if she returns, the game changes drastically. She’s a massive influence in getting around the mid-tier group of players and the bottom five or six to Adelaide’s 21.

Their biggest upside is through their kids: Chelsea Biddell is in All-Australian calculations; Maddi Newman has had a career-best season on the wing and Teah Charlton is on a slow rise to being an elite-tier midfielder. It’s about those who have been established over the years: Eloise Jones has had a down season, Marijana Rajcic was dropped a few weeks ago and Lisa Whiteley hasn’t kicked on in comparison to her season six.

Whereas we look at Melbourne, everything is flowing at the right time of the season. Their performance last week against West Coast indicated everything to me that they are desperate for a flag. They wanted top spot and a home Grand Final and the fact that they fell just a couple of points short suggest that they will be moving heaven and earth to get the likes of Karen Paxman and Daisy Pearce the flag they deserve before retirement.

But it’s not just about them. There are 21 players in this Melbourne side who do their roles so bloody well that it’s just simply hard to latch onto one player as a key to stopping them. The midfield brigade of Liv Purcell, Eliza West, Tyla Hanks as well as having Paxman and Lily Mithen through the wings at times have sliced up nearly everyone before them.

The role of Shelley Heath though will be interesting. Those who have been with us at the Mongrel over the past couple of years will know that I’m a huge fan of her lockdown work from the defensive half, but the past two weeks have seen her spend more time in the midfield – 73 percent of centre bounce attendances against West Coast on the weekend, 42 the week before against Essendon and 84 percent of attendances against Fremantle in round six. She’s incredibly tough and determined whatever role you place in front of her and I can see her playing more minutes in the middle this week.

Whilst on the middle, the move of Tayla Harris to play second-up ruck to Lauren Pearce has been a great development story this season. Harris’s season six was instrumental to Melbourne’s campaign, but her getting her hands to the ball is beneficial to Melbourne’s success. She’s kicked 10.8 this season, but also averages 11.6 disposals, 3.8 marks (1.2 contested), 3.2 tackles and 4.7 score involvements per game. It’s also given Eden Zanker a chance to play more of a permanent key forward role and in her past five weeks, she’s kicked 9.1 which are extraordinary numbers for a forward.

The forward line will be hard to stop: Zanker, Harris, Kate Hore has been in sublime touch with 16.11 – leading all Melbourne forwards for goals and score involvements this season – Alyssa Bannan beginning to find some form on the scoreboard and with Daisy Pearce and Sabreena Duffy playing cameo roles in the forward 50, the Adelaide backline have a lot on their hands. Sarah Allan hasn’t been woeful, but I can’t help but feel like her impact in games has been lacking in comparison to previous seasons.

If there was ever a performance that Adelaide needed to reassert themselves in the premiership race – it’s this one. But unfortunately for them, I’ve got Melbourne winning this game, and I fear it won’t be a close one.

  • Melbourne by 36 points



The rematch of the biggest upset of the season thus far in season seven. Brisbane have been the best team all season and by some margin too. Even against their closest competitors in Melbourne and Adelaide, they blew them away with a quarter of scintillating football.

Brisbane have been a side that rely on tackle pressure and catching sides on the fast break. In season six, they were the second-best tackling side behind Fremantle and this season, they were third in the competition for tackles – behind both Fremantle and Hawthorn – averaging just over 70 per game. The next-best top eight side is Geelong, which averages 64.5 per game.

I reflect on their earlier meeting and think about the variables in this game. Jesse Wardlaw didn’t play for Brisbane on this day and she ended up taking out the league’s goalkicking medal. Arguably, she would’ve changed the result of this game, but the significant improvement has been fun to watch this season. Wardlaw is the cornerstone of what is an extremely damaging Brisbane forward line and easily, the best forward line in the competition, averaging over 54 points per game this season.

In fact, only two sides have averaged over 50 points per game this season, that being Brisbane and Melbourne. That said, Brisbane and Melbourne have also conceded an average of  19.3 points and 18.4 points respectively – so they hold the two best defences in the competition. Richmond sit just behind in third, but I’ll get to them later.

What makes the Lions so potent is just as much off-field than on. In the sense that a large portion of the playing group has stuck fat during the expansion period. Emily Bates could’ve gone elsewhere, Ally Anderson could’ve gone elsewhere, Nat Grider could’ve gone elsewhere – there would’ve been a dozen Lions, and probably more, who could’ve left for better pay and better incentives, but they have such great chemistry and great hunger – only Indy Tahau and Maria Moloney left the club in the off-season, one was easily covered in the defensive half, the other was basically depth at midfield.

The mainstays are as strong as ever: Breanna Koenen is flying as the captain, Shannon Campbell holding it down in the defensive half, Ally Anderson is having a career-best year, Emily Bates – whilst not as prolific as last season – is still putting together a fine year. Meanwhile, career-best seasons are coming from their younger group of players: Wardlaw is a leading goalkicker, Isabel Dawes has put together a strong year, Tahlia Hickie has put together an All-Australian calibre season at ruck and Courtney Hodder has kicked 9.7 from averaging 5.3 tackles and 9.5 as a budding small – all four of them are 22 years of age or younger.

Awaiting the Lions are the Richmond Tigers, who are one of a few dark horses in this finals series. Collectively, us Australians love to rally around a underdog story, and the Tigers have forged themselves something special and the fact that they’ve made such a massive turnaround from their 2020 season, where they struggled to register an inside 50 entry, let alone score, is a testament to all those at the club.

Where the inaugural season was just Monique Conti versus the world, it’s now become an assembled team of Conti, Grace Egan, the Hoskings and Ellie McKenzie take on the competition. But this team has a wildcard in their midst, and the wild card is Meg Macdonald. Macdonald has played every game since round three, but her run-with role on Jasmine Garner has had the AFLW world talking, because she kept the newly crowned AFLW Coaches Association MVP to just 13 disposals and very minimal impact.

Who does she go to this week? I’d love to see the match-up on Anderson, because she’s been the standout in the Brisbane midfield, but there are a plethora of midfielders that can stand up in her place. Cathy Svarc had 18 disposals, nine tackles and four clearances in Brisbane’s win over Collingwood last week.

The Tigers haven’t lost a game since round two, having won seven in a row before their draw last week to North Melbourne. It was a game that they could’ve locked down, having been in front at half time and seemingly in control. It’s a small issue, but these games against those around them, they’ve lost their fourth quarters.

Against Geelong and Adelaide in the opening two weeks of the season, they lost both quarters after leading at every change. Against Brisbane, they lost the term, but won the quarter because of Brisbane squandering their opportunities and against North Melbourne, they lost the last term after being in front at three-quarter time. For as mightily impressive as the Tigers have been, that sort of form won’t stack up in Finals, where the genuine contenders get separated from everyone else.

Courtney Wakefield has been in good touch and kicked both of Richmond’s goals last time they met the Lions, but the wildcard to this game is the fitness of Katie Brennan. She has been touch and go for a large portion of the season due to a foot injury, but they have found a good forward blend with Stella Reid and Emelia Yassir – both of whom are finding strong form at the right time of the year.

Richmond are going to give the Lions hell of a fight in this game – they always given 100 percent effort this season, but the Lions are the premiership favourites for a reason. They’ll find a way to pull through.

  • Brisbane by a point



Out of the four games this weekend, this one is the hardest to predict. Geelong have been as big of an improved outfit as Richmond have been this season, but North Melbourne are a side that should not be situated in eighth position on the ladder.

North’s win-loss record of 6-3-1 has brought strong wins over the Gold Coast (who finished 9th on the ladder), Western Bulldogs, Collingwood and of course Geelong. Their three losses include losses to the top three sides. Against Brisbane, they had more scoring shots and arguably wasted their chances, they were two points adrift of Melbourne in their encounter and fell away in the last quarter against Adelaide after a fast start in the opening quarter.

In comparison to season six, they’ve improved in their connectivity between forward and centre, because they’re consistently getting the shots on goal. However, it’s their polish that remains to be seen. In their past eight games, North Melbourne have only kicked more goals than points once – that was against Collingwood in round nine and that was on the back of completlely obliterating them through their run off the turnover.

There are many battles to watch out for in this game, but the most salivating is the midfield battle. It’s the age-old saying that games are won and lost in the midfield, and this might just be one of the games where it aides the decision of this game. Geelong will sweat on the availability of Georgie Prespakis after she rolled her ankle late in the Cats’ big win over the Swans last weekend.

The on-ball brigade of Georgie, Amy McDonald, Rebecca Webster, Nina Morrison and Darcy Moloney have been destructive in the second half of this season and seeing them take on Jasmine Garner – who is running close to the best player this season – along with Ash Riddell, Jenna Bruton, Mia King and expect some cameo appearances from Emma Kearney too – it’s a midfield battle to feast your eyes upon.

Geelong’s forward line has been something of a concern for the past couple of years, but since round five, they have averaged a score of 52 points, but that is obviously inflated due to their score of 102 in their win against the Swans last weekend, but they also dropped 71 points on the Saints in round five. This average goes against the average of 17.2 points in their first four games of the season.

Chloe Scheer has kicked 13.11 since round five, her permanent move to the forward line has been one of the biggest revelations of the year. Shelley Scott being relocated from the defensive half to the forward line ahead of their win against the Saints in round five would be the next biggest revelation from the Cats. Between the two of them, they have kicked 22.16 this season and all of those goals have come from round five onwards.

Jasmine Ferguson and Sarah Wright are the two players I expect will start with the jobs on them both. Ferguson has quietly been working under the radar as the number one key defensive stopper at North, where as Wright has shown both her ability in the one-on-one and the ability to zone off and intercept mark. North have got players that can zone off and create in Brooke Brown and Erika O’Shea and both will be massive as North look to kill the Cats off with their run and carry off half back.

Geelong’s biggest strength over the years have been their defensive unit – they could zone and stifle forward lines, but their use of the ball was always a letdown. Meg McDonald is once again in All-Australian form, averaging 7.5 intercept possessions, 3.6 marks and just under 12 disposals per game. But they’ve got classy users around her now. Annabel Johnson has come across in leaps and bounds this season, Chantel Emonson has been a shrewd pickup from Melbourne and the move of Claudia Gunjaca from forward to defence has been another terrific coaching move from Dan Lowther – all three of them have a disposal efficiency of over 70 percent, which is verging on the elite tier for defenders.

Against the likes of Tahlia Randall (10.9), Emma King (8.1), Vikki Wall (6.6), Alice O’Loughlin (5.1) and Sophie Abbantangelo (4.10) the Cats are primed to really stymie the forward potency of the Roos. Both sides average over 38 points per game and there’s very little gap between their points against average – North averaging just under 23 points per game, whilst Geelong conceded an average of 22.2 per game.

North have the wood on Geelong this year, beating them in both of their games in the two seasons, but based on form heading into the finals, I’m tipping Geelong to win this game, but if Georgie Prespakis is ruled out, it will be massive for the context of this game.

  • Geelong by five points



This is an interesting game to try and get a gauge on and we’ll find out exactly where both Collingwood and the Bulldogs sit among the AFLW hierarchy.

With a 7-3 win-loss record, the Dogs have shown glimpses that their best football is certainly capable of playing in the top eight. Peeling a layer or two back though – their seven wins have all come against teams who sit between 11th and 17th, whilst their three losses came to Melbourne, Geelong and North Melbourne – sides in the top eight.

As a dyed-in-the-wool Dogs supporter, my grievances in this team lie within their forward half. I suppose it’s to be expected given that both Bonnie Toogood and Izzy Huntington both headed for the door during the off-season and it left the Dogs searching for replacements on the fly. Gabby Newton and Celine Moody have had their moments this season, combining for 11.4 this season, but have also been victims of horrendous forward 50 entries this season.

It’s a forward line being built on the run, but Rocky Cranston has been consistently threatening this season and, on her day, is seen as game winning. However, it’s Sarah Hartwig looms as the wildcard. She kicked a great pair of goals against West Coast and came through with the first goal last week against Carlton, the forward experiment could prove to be one of Nathan Burke’s finest coaching moves if she can snare one or two on the weekend against the Pies.

The Bulldogs must also look to utilise a Collingwood midfield that is not at 100 percent. Mikala Cann has been in good form, but Jaimee Lambert has been battling with injury niggles all season and have thoroughly missed having Bri Davey and Brittany Bonnici in the side. As a result of them not playing, it’s forced Chloe Molloy and Ruby Schleicher to move from forward and defence respectively to help try and bandage a midfield together that has held up well for most of the season.

The move of Molloy into the midfield has hurt Collingwood’s forward potency a lot this season – they are the only team in the top eight that averages under 30 points per game. Only Molloy (6.7), Eliza James (5.2), Jordan Membrey (3.2) and Tarni Brown (3.2) have kicked three goals or more for the Pies this season. But the positive is that they have also got 13 more players on their list that have featured on the scoreboard at one point or another this season, so they rely more on a team effort than one player to put goals on the board.

On the other side of the midfield ledger, Ellie Blackburn single-handedly dragged the Dogs into the finals last week against the Blues. The Dogs are developing a healthy list of players that can run through the centre alongside Blackburn and Kirsty Lamb. Jess Fitzgerald has been on a steady rise, Deanna Berry has been greatly improved over the past few weeks, Elisabeth Georgostathis, Elle Bennetts and Eleanor Brown have also seen minutes over the past month.

Brown will miss due to concussion but will be buoyed by the return of Rylie Wilcox on the wing and the possibility of Keely Coyne. Wilcox has been one of the draft steals of the season with her blistering pace, decisive ability to take the game on and her scoreboard impact, kicking 5.2 and averaging 11 disposals per game. Coyne adds a great layer of pressure to the forward half, averaging 4.3 per game – top five at the club in tackle averages.

Alice Edmonds on Alison Downie will be another key match-up to watch for. Edmonds’s season to date has seen her average 27 hitouts and nine hitouts to advantage per game this season – both of which are first in the competition. But she also averages 2.3 marks, 1.9 clearances and 4.9 tackles per game, which is a testament to her work rate and her willingness to improve on her craft since being discarded by Richmond at the end of the 2021 season.

Collingwood will look to beat the Bulldogs on their defence and their ability to run the ball off turnover. The Dogs are a team that loves to play precision football, but the problem is that they’re not a good enough team to do that. Too often this season has the ball gone over the head of a teammate or skewed metres sideways of a target on the back of the slightest amount of pressure.

Neither side are a high-tackling pressure side, but often rely on zone defences to cut off and intercept. But North Melbourne and Brisbane have shown the past fortnight that frontal pressure causes Collingwood’s ball movement to freeze up and they struggle to put scores on the board as a result.

Molloy needs to be forward of the ball more, I like that Steve Symonds is using Sabrina Frederick more in the middle of the ground to allow herself to get involved a little bit more – her as stay at home key forward does not work and they need a player like Eliza James to stand up and kick a couple for the Pies to bring this one home. There’s no doubt her talent is undeniable, and she has proved her ability on the scoreboard on a number of occasions this season.

The entire defensive unit of the Pies have had the number of the Dogs in recent years. Stacey Livingstone has been a thorn to the Dogs, Lauren Butler has found new levels in terms of her rebound off the half-back line and Jordyn Allen and Sophie Casey have been ever-reliable in the defensive half this season as well.

This is a tough game to predict. My heart says that my Dogs will cause the upset of the first week of finals, but my head says that Collingwood will be too good and have had the finals experience under Steve Symonds and will get the chocolates. I often go with my head, but this is the rare time that I go with my heart. Winning form is good form and I can sense that belief in the group that their best can match those around them isn’t too far away from realisation.

  • Western Bulldogs by 8 points



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